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The Speeches in Acts [Paperback]

By Marion L. Soards (Author)
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Item description for The Speeches in Acts by Marion L. Soards...

This historical reappraisal of the Acts of the Apostles, written in narrative form, allows the reader to understand the biblical author's worldview, historical and ideological assumptions, and purposes as they were communicated through portions of his work.

Publishers Description

This historical reappraisal of the Acts of the Apostles, written in narrative form, allows the reader to understand the biblical author's worldview, historical and ideological assumptions, and purposes as they were communicated through portions of this work. Marion Soards analyzes the speech texts by comparing them to writings from ancient history, rhetoric, and midrashic interpretation of scripture. He points out the interesting features in the speeches and highlights the thematic similarities. Soards provides a clear picture of the manner of writings in Acts, the theology, and the encompassing history of the early Christian period, and he supplies a sound basis for contemporary Jewish-Christian relations.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Westminster John Knox Press
Pages   236
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.98" Width: 5.96" Height: 0.68"
Weight:   0.8 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Feb 2, 1993
Publisher   Westminster John Knox Press
Edition  New  
ISBN  0664252214  
ISBN13  9780664252212  

Availability  107 units.
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More About Marion L. Soards

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Marion L. Soards is Professor of New Testament at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A).

Marion L. Soards was born in 1952.

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1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Bible & Other Sacred Texts > Bible > New Testament
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Commentaries > Commentaries
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > General
4Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > New Testament > Study
5Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > New Testament
6Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Topical
7Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > Eschatology

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A Critical Reveiw of "The Speeches in Acts"  Nov 26, 2005
In his book The Speeches in Acts Marion Soards seeks to explain and interpret both the content and purpose of the speeches in the book of Acts. The author holds to the position that the content of each speech is best understood by examining Luke's overall purpose and greater rhetorical aims for the speeches as a whole. Soards asserts that a comprehensive understanding of the speeches within Acts does not come from compartmentalization of discrete speech groups (i.e. speeches organized by authorship, literary type, etc.) as works by Debelius, Schneider, and other prominent New Testament scholars have done in the past. Instead he contends that the speeches themselves are the sole medium of unity within Acts serving as Luke's method of guiding the overall narrative through a plurality of ever changing heroes, ethnicities, communities, geographical locations, and other seemingly unrelated events of Christian history to the greater accomplishment of Luke's theocentric historiography. The author's own words frame his thesis concisely as he says,

"By considering the book [Acts] along these lines- diverse personalities, ethnic groups, communities, geographical regions, and historical moments are unified in Acts largely though the repetitive occurrence, form, and contents of the speeches. Thus when one asks, What is "the meaning to be attributed to the speeches in the work as a whole?" one finds that the speeches unify the Acts account, and through them Luke advances his theme of divinely commissioned unified witness to the ends of the earth." (p. 15)

In his introduction (pp. 1-13) Soards quickly orients the reader to the current status of scholarship concerning the speeches in Acts with a brief history and introduces the reader to his thesis. Soards presents strong evidence for his working assumption that the speeches in Acts are more the creations of Luke himself rather than an objective historical record of the ipsissima verba of the historical figure. He begins the development of his argument by commenting that much of the research on the speeches in Acts has been shaped by the famous statement from Thucydides (a Greco-Roman writer from antiquity) on his practice of recording speeches which "has been, while keeping as closely as possible to the general sense of the words that were actually said, to have speakers say what, in my view, was called for by each situation." (p. 1). Soards briefly summarizes the fruit of biblical scholarship as it has moved forward with this analytical orientation concerning the nature of Acts's speeches by summarizing the three main critical conceptions of the speeches: 1) The speeches are a literary device 2) The speeches are a convention of historiography 3) The speeches are a theological (or ideological) device [pp. 9-10]. It is the author's view that any one of these individual perspectives fails to completely and comprehensively explain Luke's usage of the speeches within Acts. He makes the point that the practice of trying to find the consistent similarity of form in the speeches has been the consistent flaw of such immanent biblical scholars as Horsley, Van Unnik, Conzemann, and Debelius as they have founded their criticisms on the speeches in Acts from this fundamentally errant starting point. In the same way, Soards also brings to light the inherent confinement and lack of scholarly consensus regarding the attempts by Heanchen, Schweizer, Wilckens, and Conzemann to find a single formulaic outline encapsulating the similarities of content within the speeches.

Soards's study is distinguished from his predecessors and truly takes a new direction as he is chiefly concerned with "the role of the speeches in the Acts of the Apostles" (p. 13) rather than attempting to find their irreducible likeness in form and content as his predecessors have done in the past. In other words, Soards is less concerned with what the speeches in Acts are and focuses his study on what the speeches in Acts do. With this refreshing perspective the author moves on to analyze the speeches in Acts individually in the next section of his work.

The second section (pp. 18-130) is the heart of Soards's work as he analyzes speech by speech all the qualifying pericopes in Acts. As one would expect of one trying to find the function of the speeches as a whole, Soards's criterion of a speech is fairly broad: "A speech is a deliberately formulated address made to a group a listeners" (p. 20). This criterion allows for 36 speeches in the author's analysis, much more than past analyses of the speeches in Acts by Debelius and Schneider who count 24 and 25 respectively. However, this criterion excludes such important discourses as the conference of Jewish authorities regarding the fate of Peter and John (4:16-17), Peter's interrogation of Ananias (5:3-4) and Sapphira (5:8-9), the Lord's message to Paul that he would be his witness in Rome (23:11), and the statements of the Roman Jewish leaders (28:21-22, 17-20) [p. 20].

Soards interprets the qualifying speeches within his work synchronically for the purpose of elucidating the thematic similarities and developments of the speeches as a whole. Simply put, Soards's section of analysis seeks to view each speech in Acts synonymously with all the other speeches. For example, in his analysis of Peter's speech at Pentecost (2:14-40) the author reveals the important reoccurring theme of God's plan by pointing out the initial appearance of such language as "boule kai prognosei tou theou" (the plan/purpose and foreknowledge of God) [2:23]. As is typical of his section of analysis, Soards goes into exhaustive detail showing the linguistic and thematic relationships of this phrase/theme in such sections as 4:28, 13:36, and 20:27 where the phrase "hey boule tou theou" (the plan/purpose of God) is used. The author attacks each pericope in a similar fashion as he illuminates such thematic similarities as divine authority, Christology, the operation of God's plan, the marking of time, and witness (pp. 184, 186, 187, 190, and 192). Soards's thematic analysis of each speech includes an introduction, an outline, and an analysis proper. He translates and provides the Greek for all the sections of scripture under consideration. In his third section (pp. 134-160) Soards shows the similarities of Luke's use of speeches in Acts with the larger contemporaneous literary conventions of the ancient first century world such as Greco-Roman historiography, the Septuagint, and Hellenistic Jewish literature. Soards cleaves to his thesis in that he points out these similarities for the purpose of better understanding the role of the speeches rather than build a case for what the speeches in Acts most resemble. The author's own words best describe his pragmatic observations:

"...the form of the speeches in Acts is clearly related to Greco-Roman historiography, and the language and themes of the speeches seem most comparable to portions of the Septuagint; but that Luke wrote history-including especially the speeches- in relation to religious convictions and the debate over such convictions makes Acts perhaps most comparable to Hellenistic Jewish literature." (p. 160)

Soards provides much in this section to secure this position by describing how the speeches in Acts are similar to each of these ancient literary conventions. First, the author recapitulates Dibelius's work regarding the speeches' likeness to the speeches in Greco-Roman historiography by commenting, "...that the speeches in Acts are similar to those in Greco-Roman historiography in that they are loosely fitted to the context in which they occur" (p. 136). The author shows the validity of this claim as he points out the seemingly stretched relationship certain speeches in Acts have with their surrounding narrative material (i.e. Steven's speech to the Sanhedrin [7:2-43], Paul's address to the Athenian elders [17:22], and Paul's speech to the Ephesian elders [20:18-35]). The author then moves on to show the influence that the Septuagint had on the speeches in Acts. He rightly warrants this comparison by writing, "...the religious nature of the contents and Septuagintal flavor of the language of the speeches in Acts, especially in the highly repetitive portions that go beyond the matters at hand, naturally commend a comparison of the speeches in Acts and the Septuagint." (p. 142). Along with his illuminative verse by verse comparative study of the speeches in Acts and pericopes from the Septuagint, the author deftly exposes the similarity of form and function of speeches in Acts with the great speeches of the Septuagint such as Moses' farewell speech (Deut. 1:6-30:20), Joshua's farewell speech (Jos. 23), and Samuel's farewell speech as they all seek to reiterate history for the purposes of the present. Finally, Soards finishes this section by addressing the similarities of Hellenistic Jewish literature with the speeches in Acts by pointing out their apologetic likeness with the writings of such Hellenistic Jewish writers as Josephus and the author of 2 Maccabees.

In his final section (pp. 162-204) Soards sketches his thematic analyses of the speeches in brief outline form with the intent to summarize the focus and purpose of the reoccurring themes of the speeches in Acts. The author's statement regarding the crystallized hermeneutical value of his thematic study is as follows:

"The forgoing analysis of the connections between elements of the speeches in Acts has focused above all on the repetitions as a key to perceiving the unity and emphasis of the Acts account. Unity and emphasis clearly function together in service to Luke's didactic purposes, for as themes or element reoccur in the speeches the reader of Acts learns of the coherence and concerns of the early church as Luke presents it." (p. 204)

It is clear that Soards believes the value of his thematic study is to better understand the sitz em leben of Luke's intended audience. The author moves on to name the main themes of the speeches of Acts as divine authority, Christology, the operation of God's plan, the marking of time, and witness (pp. 184, 186, 187, 190, and 192). This comes as no surprise to the reader as Soards has done nothing but propound these themes repeatedly in his analysis section, however it is convenient for the author to state his explicated themes in a concise manner for the purpose of quick reference.

Although Soards's thematic study warrants much commendation, it also calls for improvement at two points. First, the work would be more functional had the author introduced his general themes before he offered his analyses of the speeches. This would prepare the reader to look for the specific motifs that Soards clearly wants to impart in his analysis proper. Second, Soards fails to provide a defense regarding his limiting speech criterion. Although his standard is significantly more inclusive than the analytical efforts of his predecessors, the author limits the inclusion of such thematically propelling speeches as 4:16-17; 5:3-4; 5:8-9; 23:11; and 28:21-22, 17-20 as previously mentioned. Considering Soards's contention that Luke uses the speeches to tie together unrelated events of Christian history, the author's analysis is marginally incomplete as he has left out these relevant sections by reason of definition despite their further explanation and propulsion of the events in Acts. It seems more responsible for the author to fully exploit his thesis by broadening his definition to the point where all the relevant material in Acts could be included and analyzed within his study.

Despite these shortcomings Soards's work is an example of first-rate biblical scholarship and is a mandatory read for those who seek to better understand the book of Acts and its speeches. His thorough explication of his thesis is well argued and applied in an accessible comprehensive analysis that assumes little background knowledge in a specified field. Soards's superior new direction of criticism regarding the speeches in Acts will surely guide New Testament studies into higher levels of interpretation and understanding and for this his work The Speeches in Acts should be highly esteemed indeed.

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